Is the new Vauxhall Astra good enough to tempt buyers out of crossovers and SUVs?
Realised something the other day. In two decades of driving and owning cars of varying decrepitude/sensibleness, I’ve never genuinely considered purchasing a Vauxhall.
Fords, Renaults, VWs, Mazdas, Nissans, Seats, the odd Citroen: I’ve either owned them, or at least had them towards the top of my various shopping lists at one time or another. But never a Vaux in the (car buying) box. Am I alone here?
Sure, Luton’s finest has served up a few interesting diversions over the years – 2011’s Corsa VXR Nurburgring was an absolute banger, and I’d totally take a VX220 if someone wants to buy me a VX220-sized garage to go with it – but the less esoteric stuff, not so much.
Maybe it’s me rather than the cars, but I’ve never found Vauxhalls have nailed the sensible-yet-interesting conundrum with the same regularity as, say, Ford. Especially when it comes to hatchbacks.
But with Ford apparently scarpering out of the regular hatchback segment as fast as its spangly new crossovers will carry it, that leaves a neat space for Vauxhall – with its recently rediscovered sense of style – to fill.
And on the face of it, the new Astra looks just the ticket. For starters, it is a proper, trad hatchback: no pretensions at crossoveriness or sportful utility here, just a classic, regular-roofline five-door.
This is a good thing. If you need a car to transport humans and items, but also provide a bit of fun on the way back from depositing those humans and items, it’s been long proven that a hatch (or, OK, maybe an estate, also offered in the Astra range) is the best shape for the job.
And that shape looks, to these eyes at least, pretty tidy. I’m not sure the ‘Vulcan Grey’ paint of our test car (£600) shows off the Astra’s sharp lines to quite the same effect as the lovely ‘Electric Yellow’ signature colour (£700), but does lend it a faintly DeLorean design vibe from some angles.
Which, again, is a good thing. We’re hardly in a golden era for hatch design right now – the Focus and Leon have gone frumpier than they once were, the Golf looks like… a Golf – so it’s good to see Vauxhall (and sister brand Peugeot) flying the flag for a bit of styling vim in the segment.
Also hopefully offering a bit of vim is the Astra’s engine: the 128bhp iteration of Stellantis’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo. No hybrid or plug socket here (though you can have your Astra in more powerful PHEV guise), which works for me. I know electric is our future and all that, but for the driving I do, right now, a frugal petrol just makes most sense. I suspect there are plenty of others in the same boat.
Our test car arrives in mid-grade ‘GS Line’ trim, which adds 17-inch alloys, more black exterior trim and various adaptive driver systems over base-spec ‘Design’, but does without the head-up display of the range-topping Ultimate. I reckon this could be the sweet spot in the Astra range.
Arguably less sweet, on paper, is our test car’s eight-speed auto, a £1,500 upgrade over the standard six-speed manual. That’s a punchy premium. Worth it? We’ll see.
Without putting too much weight on the Astra’s smartly creased shoulders, it feels this car (the Astra generally, I mean, not BP22EXJ specifically) has a responsibility greater than merely elbowing Vauxhall towards the top of the C-segment hatchback class. Instead, in the face of an SUV/crossover onslaught, it feels like something of a referendum on the future of the humble hatchback itself. TG likes a humble hatchback. Don’t let us down, Astra…